A Press Hit is Worth What? – The Truth Behind Media Relations ROI

By Joshua Kail, - In Marketing

TV has the words ' The Truth Behind Media Relations ROI' on screen

Photo Credit: .reid.

This article pertains to the Media Relations branch of PR.

One question I am frequently asked by potential clients is “What is a press hit worth?”  Meaning what is my expected Return on Investment (ROI) for your media relations services? This is a fair question. PR can be a considerable portion of a marketing budget and going in with some idea of what a company will get back can feel reassuring. Despite this legitimate reason for asking, I hate this question because there are two answers to give; The “Honest One” and the one “Many PR Firms” give.  Most potential clients are not expecting to hear the honest one, so it can come as a shock.

Answer Many PR Firms Give:

“By the end of the quarter you can expect a net profit of Ten Million dollars as a direct result of media placements. This is assessed through the use of our algorithm which we have based on location of hit, circulation of publication, timing of the media hit, and prominence within the publication. We then take that information and calculate the average percentage of turnover as mirrored by advertising statistics along with the cost of your product/service.”

As the British say, this is total bullocks. It sounds beautiful, scientific, based on fact and past experience. It is very tempting to believe. The one problem is that most of that information is totally made up. For one, this structure is based closely on how advertising agencies calculate the value of an ad campaign. PR is not advertising. A quarter estimate of ROI is half of the suggested length of the average small advertising campaign. Ads appear in the same spot of the same publication every month. Press hits have a wider and rotational reach.  History of sales success with one client has no causal link to the success of another client in the same spot. There are too many variables to legitimately prognosticate the success of any product or service through media relations.

When those original estimates inevitably fall short, PR Firms can then use these previously unmentioned variables to explain away why they fell short. The price point was off for the market, economy took a sudden dip, the publications’ readership dropped unexpectedly, a new competitor came on the market with more desirable features, etc. These are all honest and real reasons why that estimate was not met. The actual reason is that number given was entirely made up. If a PR firm hits their estimate it is pure luck and they look amazing.  If they miss it, well “it is not really their fault.” It’s a fool proof tactic with very little to lose; unless you are the actual client with inflated expectations, then you lose a lot.

The Honest Answer:

“Press hits are worth roughly, and this is an estimate based on my own very special algorithm, ZERO DOLLARS in immediate fiscal return.”

This doesn’t mean Media Relations fails at sales. It means Media Relations was never designed to be a point of sale (POS). The problem is, since the meaning of PR has become such a vague and spongy concept (see last article), rather than working at fixing these misconceptions, many in the industry have fallen into redefining concepts to better fit clients’ uninformed (again PR’s fault) expectations. So now many firms sell media relations as a direct sales tool, which again IT IS NOT.

Media Relations is designed to be a tool which helps sales through brand recognition and traffic flow over an extended period of time. I do realize this sounds like splitting hairs with actual sales, but it can best be related to the adage, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Media Relations leads the horse and helps the horse recognize they are looking at water. It does not make the horse drink the water, that is what Sales is for.

This applies both to B2C and B2B Media Relations.

Business to Consumer

In many ways Media Relations success, when it comes to consumer products/services, is much easier to track. The immediate effects can be seen faster than B2B, especially around peak sales times, the holidays in particular. Still even with key media placements, Media Relations is not designed to sell, simply lead potential customers to the place where sales occur. I have two real life examples to illustrate this:

We were able to get “Client A” featured on Good Morning America (GMA). The price point of the product was specially discounted to about $100.  Due to a presidential speech scheduled at the same time, the segment did not air on the West Coast, losing an entire time zone of viewers. Within the 3 hours of airing, the client sold more than $10K worth of product. At first glance the conclusion would be PR directly resulted in those sales. The reality is PR enabled those sales by capturing a large population and directed them to the point of sale. At no time prior to Click and Buy could any of these people be considered a sale.

Which brings us to “Client B.” Client B had a price point of about $70. We had them featured in the first issue of a new spinoff publication of Sports Illustrated which directly targeted the client’s primary customer base. Not only were we pushing this inclusion on the client’s social media networks, but Sports Illustrated spent two weeks highly promoting the new pub on all of its own websites, even giving it away for free to anyone who wanted it. To make things even better the review called the product a “game changer.”

So here is a media hit in the highest tiered publication for the client’s demographic, the publication itself was pushing out issues for free, and the review was phenomenal. How many sales did this result in? Somewhere around 10. We know by the nature of the publication, and the fact that it was a digital copy with an embedded link to the client site, that traffic as a result was high. Why did this not result in reflective sales to the success with “Client A?” One reason could be that the Point of Sale, the website, was incredibly difficult to navigate and made purchasing very difficult. In this case, the efforts of media relations to drive traffic was not properly supported by the client’s sales efforts. The Media Relations aspect of the push was successful two fold in that it drove traffic and added an influential third party confirmation of the products’ value. Unfortunately those victories feel less victorious when immediate profit does not come with it.

With both Client A and Client B, media relations accomplished the same level of success in what Media Relations is capable of achieving in the short term. The results in sales were drastically different because of everything that occurred after Media Relations’ role in the transaction was complete. As much as I would LOVE to claim to potential clients that “we got a client on GMA and they sold 10K in 3 hours and we can do the same for you,” I don’t because that success in sales has nothing to do with any client other than the one who saw the actual sale. What I do say is we have landed clients on GMA, Ellen, The View, the Talk, etc. with viewership in the millions increasing the statistical likelihood that your POS will get a noticeable uptick in visits, which could translate into sales, just never a specific number of what those sales would be.

Business to Business
Media Relations for companies which focus on Business to Business sales tend to see fewer immediate indicators of campaign success compared to B2C companies. Whereas B2C can see fairly quick turnaround on website visits and active brand engagement, things with B2B Media Relations can seem quieter.

Why is there such a large disparity of immediate success indicators when the essential method to achieve those results is similar? To see why you need to do a Candy Bar Comparison.

A B2C sale is like having a candy bar (sometimes literally) staring at you in the grocery checkout line. It is put there because it is a last minute temptation accessible to nearly anyone who walks by it. Should you want it, it is easy to grab, throw on the conveyor belt, and purchase for a relatively low price. In every sense of the phrase, you are making a gut decision.

A B2C press hit “puts the product/service in front of a consumers eyes” that tend to be products or services which are tempting or accessible enough to justify a site visit or google search. From there, Sales takes over to either capture the sale in that moment or, for more expensive items, cultivate that desire until it translates into a sale.

With B2B this is not so simple. Even though many CIO’s may equate an RFID inventory system, or cloud based cyber security service, to a desperately desired or even needed candy bar, the process to turn desire to purchase is much more difficult. B2B purchase decisions for a potential customer tend to be much larger processes than “See, Want, Buy.” There are committees in place to discuss the need, budget approvals, alternate product/service research, and meetings. TONS of meetings. Even relatively low tech, inexpensive B2B purchases take time to go from interest to purchase. It is NOT a candy bar.

As a result, a PR Firm claiming to predict sales increases within a quarter due to media relations is something of pure fantasy. Even if they predict impact for a year’s time, it is still guess work. When it comes to new or emerging technology this is especially true. The result of a press hit may not even lead to a website visit for a few weeks or even months.

What Media Relations can do over a consistent and long term approach, is inform potential customers as to what that new or emerging technology is and why it is an improvement, so that six months down the road, when it comes time for writing up the next year’s budget, an amount is put aside for potential upgrades or adoptions of that technology.

This is a huge and invisible win for a media relations campaign. It is huge because the media hit with a company’s information on it can directly result to its inclusion on a potential client’s upgrade short list. It is invisible because there is no way to see a note being written down after an article is read, or a cut, paste, and forwarding of a paragraph with a company’s name through an interoffice email by a potential customer. Actual website hits may not be seen until weeks or months after “discussions” have been had at various internal levels of that potential customer. Here is a real life example of how that plays out.

“Client C” had an emerging technology launching at a crucial time within their target industry in terms of technological transition. They offered a medical solution to a problem virtually everyone in their market faced, and in this case, adoption would literally saved thousands of lives each year. Despite difficulties in attracting industry media attention in the beginning, within one year we achieved roughly 300 targeted media hits. We did not expect any of these hits to result in a sale. Why? Because the cost of what “Client C” was offering was in the millions. In fact, being only a few million dollars was actually a money saving measure for most potential clients, but regardless, spending that type of money on an emerging technology is not a “Candy Bar” type decision. There is an expectation that potential customers of this client would make decisions based on responsible due diligence and not on a whim. The important takeaway was that after all those media hits, during sales calls potential customers already were aware of what the technology and who the company was. From this point is where the Sales department can really do its job and convert that traffic into sales.


With both B2C and B2B Media Relations, the ROI is in visibility and POS traffic.  The time it is required to get that traffic moving and the brand message heard, varies not only between these two variants of business, but on a company to company basis as well.

When it comes to considering media relations as a method of increasing product or company visibility, it is crucial you walk into that decision with the right understanding of what the results could and should be. Whether it is for a B2B or B2C market, claims of being able to predict sales as a result of media relations in the short term are not real. There are too many variables at play and too many realities of the purchase making decision for anyone to be able to make an accurate guess. And even then those guesses are not about the sales which Media Relations makes, they are estimates on how much of POS traffic increases a sales team or system can convert.

Media Relations has a huge potential long term impact on the success of any business, but if you are looking for a short term sales solution, you better be sure to have a proper team or system in place to use those successes to convert that traffic and brand recognition into actual profits.


Josh Kail is co-Founder of Glass Lantern PR